Harvard Law School

Application Essays – JUSTIN LU

What Worked for them can Help You Get into the Law School of Your Choice 

As I stood in front of my class, ready to begin my first lesson, I felt a flash of déjà vu. I felt as though I had been there before, swimming in that sea of expectant gazes. In fact, I had spent a great deal of my life in front of audiences – I had been a debater all throughout high school, and I had spent the last three years of my life competing on the USC mock trial team. Audiences were no problem.

Painted on top of the sense of familiarity I felt, however, was a thin veneer of uncertainty. Audiences are no problem because you know that they only expect so much from you. They expect you to impress them. They expect you to win the argument with grace and aplomb. All my life, I had stood in front of audiences and put my best foot forward, and most of the time, that had been enough. As I paused to consider the forty pairs of eager eyes staring at me, however, I realized why I felt differently than I had ever felt in the past. I saw in those eyes a different set of expectations: a set of expectations that I had never had occasion to consider before.

As students, these people expected something different from me. They expected me to be a teacher. They expected me to engage with their problems in a meaningful way and to put my vanity aside in revolving them. They cared less about how I performed and more about how they performed. Standing in front of my class, with a staggering number of gazes fixed on me, I realized that it was time for me to step up.

Thankfully, I did. My first lesson was a resounding success. I found inventive ways to explain the abstract material we were dealing with, and my students seemed to respond. They raised their hands and asked insightful questions, all of which I answered with grace and with more than a little aplomb.

After I concluded class for the day, my reward came quickly and in quantities I could not have imagined. Students approached me in numbers and thanked me for teaching them something new. Competing on the intercollegiate mock trial circuit, I was used to being congratulated on a good performance, but I was less accustomed to being thanked for helping someone become better. As the weeks wore on, I began to feel more accomplished than I had ever felt before. My students were improving, and the feeling was indescribable. My focus rapidly shifted from my own performance to the performance of my students.

I realized, somewhat later, that this sense of accomplishment was exactly what I had always been looking for in life. Helping real people with real problems gave me a stronger sense of purpose than public speaking for its own sake ever had. Helping people that I cared about improve themselves gave me a greater sense of joy than winning an award for excellence ever could.
Still, I was careful to let my emotions be tempered by an abiding sense of personal responsibility. More than ever before, I could see the effect that my words had on people. For better or for worse, I was uniquely positioned to influence my students’ manner of thinking. They relied on me, not only to tell them what to do, but to show them how to think as well. For some students, that meant taking more time to explain difficult concepts; for others, that meant persuading them to take a more active interest in their skills and in their futures.

I realized then that I had to be more than just a teacher- I had to be an advocate, too. I advocated on behalf of my students’ goals and abilities, and I advocated against their own laziness and self-doubt. This task demanded patience patience and flexibility from us all, but by the end, everyone had gained a better understanding of a singularly important aspect of their future – including me.

I had always known that I wanted to be a lawyer, and now I finally knew why. I knew that I wanted to spend my life in the service of ideas, and I wanted to do so on a grander scale than a single classroom could provide. Among the many roles a lawyer must play in our society is that of a teacher. Lawyers inform, persuade, and trade on the power of their ideas. All my life, I had tried to prepare myself to take on this role, and now I finally had the necessary experience and perspective to embrace it fully.
As I stood in front of my class, ready to begin my final lesson, I felt a flash of déjà vu. I felt as though I had been there before, only this time, I felt at home. I stood in front of my students and began my lesson, confident that I could help them learn something new. After all, I had already spent more than a hundred hours in front of them doing exactly that. Students were no problem.

Justin Lu’s perceptive and subtle account of the relationship between performance and service in the legal profession makes this essay sharp and original. In particular, Lu effectively uses the transition from debating to teaching to underscore a crucial shift in his measure of success; while debating defines success in terms of persona performance, success in teaching depends on the pupil’s achievement. Emphasizing the greater fulfillment that comes from the latter measure of accomplishment, Lu transitions from his personal experience to his ambition to become a lawyer, showing maturity and a deep sense of awareness of the moral implications of his prospective career.

After a concise opening that introduces the experience of facing an audience as the unifying theme of the essay, Lu slowly reveals the significance of this specific experience piece by piece, building up interest and expectation on the part of the reader. This personal narrative reaches its climax only in the sixth paragraph, where using a simple yet powerful epiphany Lu points to the “stronger sense of purpose” and “greater sense of joy” that came from teaching. The conclusion gives the essay an elegant circular structure by recalling the same moment recounted in the introduction – Lu standing in front of his class—and by repeating a different version of the very last sentence of the opening paragraph—“Students were no problem.”

Although the connection between the skills required in teaching and those required in the legal profession is not particularly immediate and may seem far-fetched, the depth and persuasiveness of Lu’s motivation to become a lawyer overweighs the arguably forced link. Similarly, Lu’s strong and distinct voice makes up for a narrative that sometimes lacks the descriptive vividness that would enhance the reader’s empathy with the author.

–Francesca Annicchiarico

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